May 13, 2015

Concrete canoe team headed to nationals

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A team of engineering students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale paddled away as No. 1 following a recent competition that challenged them to build a canoe out of concrete. 

The SIU team took first place overall at the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Mid-Continent Student Conference, held April 25-26 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The win puts the team in the national competition set for later this year. 

“There are not many words that describe how it felt to win the regional,” said Austin Caldwell, a senior in civil and environmental engineering and captain of the team. “The excitement shared by the entire team proved to be something you can’t find every day.” 

Building a floating canoe out of the same material used to make roads and buildings may seem counterintuitive, but that’s where the engineering challenge comes in. To build such a canoe, teams must experiment with different types of concrete mixes and designs. Judges rate canoes based on appearance, aesthetic qualities, speed and other characteristics. 

Caldwell said the SIU team’s journey began last semester, as the SIU student chapter of the ASCE began working the project. 

“From recruitment day in September to the regional conference in April, the group of recruits grew into a hardworking, driven team and became living proof that hard work and determination can make any dream a reality,” Caldwell said. “This year’s team and a ton of other people have put in an enormous amount of work over the past several years that in the end brought us to the point we are at today. It has taken a long time to learn and perfect the methods that were used to create a canoe worthy of competing at nationals, but after almost 20 years of sending a canoe to regionals, Carbondale will finally be represented at nationals and her presence made known.” 

Caldwell, now in his third year as a member, said he’s enjoyed watching the SIU team grow stronger during the last few years. 

“For me as the captain, it was wonderful to be able to witness that transformation. On a larger scale, it has been wonderful to watch the progression of the program over the past several years. It has been a huge blessing to be able to witness the program grow to what it is today.” 

Last year, the team managed to finish third at the competition, but this year’s team completed the cycle to the top, he said, scoring 81 points and besting the second-place team by 10 points. 

“The last two years paved the way for this year’s regional title and trip to nationals,” Caldwell said.  “One of the best parts of the first place finish for me is the fact that I know where we were, and have witnessed how far we have come.” 

Caldwell said the win was an ultimate team effort, with everyone from the design and building group, to the oral presentation, to the display board creators chipping in and doing their best. 

The team also took second place in the “final product” contest, which looked at the overall aesthetics of the canoe, as fifth in the “design paper” contest and third overall on race day. During the races, team members took first in the men’s endurance and co-ed race, fourth in women’s endurance, sixth in women’s sprint and seventh in the men’s sprint. 

The following is a listing of the concrete canoe team members, beginning with those from Illinois:


Christian Peterson, sophomore in forestry


Jonathan Stitgen, senior in civil engineering


Dana Mitchell, sophomore in computer engineering


Nick Grek, senior in civil engineering


Hannah Dohm


Rex Gower, senior in civil engineering

St. Rose

Jacob Schrage, senior in civil engineering


Michael Esker, senior in civil engineering

Ross Ruholl, senior in civil engineering

Brandon Hemmen, senior in civil engineering

Tyler Windell, junior in mechanical engineering


Kendall Candler, sophomore in civil engineering


Emily Waldon, sophomore in civil engineering from Horn Lake


Addison Jobe, senior in civil engineering from California

Olivia Donnel, freshman in pre-engineering from Diamond


Emily Peterson, junior in civil engineering from The Woodlands 

Steel bridge competition 

SIU once again fielded a team to compete at the steel bridge building portion of the conference. The team, however, was not able to finish the contest due to a misunderstanding of the bridge dimensions, officials said. 

The team, which had just two returning members from last year, also is made up of students from the SIU chapter of the ASCE. The team starts the year by researching possible designs and types of steel for their bridge, looking at factors such as deflection, stress and bending moments to create the best bridge possible. 

The team researches, designs and fabricates a scaled simulation of a steel bridge before competing against other universities during the ASCE Midwest-Continent Regional Conference. At the conference, the team must build the entire bridge from the ground up while considering display, construction speed, lightness, stiffness, construction economy, structural efficiency and overall performance. 

The following is a listing of the steel bridge team members, beginning with those from Illinois:

Mount Carmel

Ian Wiser, senior in civil engineering


Phil Williams, junior in civil engineering


Nick Berty, sophomore in civil engineering


Austin Caldwell, senior in civil engineering


Jared Linze, junior in civil engineering


Jacob Brown, sophomore in civil engineering, from Evansville

Saudi Arabia

Mansor Sufran, senior in civil engineering from Riyadh

Saad Sufran, from Riyadh


Aiman Farea, senior in civil engineering, from Sana’a 

Other members of the team include: Elijah Greer, freshman in civil engineering; Chris Regalado, freshman in civil engineering; Dakota Oria, freshman in engineering; Caleb Barnard, senior in civil engineering and Lais Kher.